By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again; The eternal years of God are hers; But error, wounded, writhes with pain, And dies among his worshippers.”
– William Cullen Bryant.
When Plato (428/427-348/347 BC), the ancient Greek philosopher, student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle stated that: “No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth” he made a poignant, point blank statement. But he could not have imagined that centuries after him, the likes of great minds such as Galileo Galilee, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jnr. would be made to pay the supreme sacrifice, for mustering the courage to speak the truth to power.
In fact, Plato could not have imagined that a country would emerge from the grip of colonialists on the African continent, where mostly self-serving, greed-driven political leaders would ride roughshod over the dreams and desires of the citizens. One is referring to the citizens who must always kowtow to their leaders’ weird whims and caprices without raising a voice of dissent against their antics. That country of course, is Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world.
Over the decades, not a few of its leaders, either garbed in the well-starched khaki of a despotic military leadership or in the flowing agabada of a democrat never do any wrong and must never be criticized, or such a reckless culprit would go in for it!
Perhaps, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, now in the eye of the dusty storm for criticizing President Muhammadu Buhari has dismissed the several atrocities meted out to the Truth torch bearers before him. That brings to mind the likes of Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, iconic human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawenhimi(of blessed memory) and of course, the late Afrobeat music maestro, the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti. If he did not, Kukah must have been driven by the passion of a patriot, to have drawn the attention of Mister President to what most concerned citizens are aware of – but afraid to make public- as his political missteps.
Put succinctly, Kukah in a message titled: “A Nation in search of vindication,” accused the president of turning nepotism into a state policy. Furthermore, that under his administration, Nigeria appears to be heading in the direction of darkness, with the citizens all travelling in a rudderless ship without any destination in sight. Still not satisfied with his ‘wild’ accusations he went on to accuse the president of institutionalizing northern hegemony by “reducing others in public life to second-class status.”
As far as Kukah is concerned, the North has not been spared by the socio-economic and political woes that have enveloped the nation, as the region has been the worst hit, for it. He also criticized the handling of the deplorable security situation and economic woes in Nigeria. He said: “Ours has become a house of horror, with fear stalking our homes, highways, cities, hamlets and entire communities.” And in total condemnation of the continuous assault by Boko Haram, armed bandits and kidnappers of Nigerians, the cleric said: “the challenge now is how to deal with the scars inflicted by a derelict nation, which is still unable or unwilling to protect its citizens.”
In a related manner and on the recent abduction of schoolboys in Katsina state and similar incidents in the recent past, Kukah said these have exposed the danger children are exposed to in the northern part of the country. In the concluding part of the message Kukah said: “The United Nations has wailed. The Pope has wailed. Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Pastors have wailed. Emirs have wailed. Politicians have wailed. The Sultan has wailed”. What a Christmas message!
As if all these weighty allegations and accusations were not enough effrontery, Kukah said that there could have been a coup if a non-northern Muslim president had done a fraction of what Buhari has done! To the president’s diehard hero- worshippers, this was one handshake that has gone beyond the elbow, calling for a wrestling match! The reactions were instantaneous.
The Sokoto-based Muslim Solidarity Forum (MSF) called on the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Dr. Matthew Kukah, to tender unreserved apology to the Muslims, or quietly and quickly leave the state, over his controversial Christmas essay. Professor Isa Maishanu of MSF described the essay as “malicious comment” against Islam.
But the Youth Wing of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) has vowed to retaliate any form of attack on Kukah, over his recent message on Nigeria’s woes. The national leader of the SOKAPU youth wing, John Isaac, pointed out that MSF was trying to incite the peace-loving people of Sokoto and some Northerners against the cleric over his Christmas essay, in which, “out of patriotism, he voiced out the obvious truth.’
In his timely response, Prof. Soyinka described the call for Kukah to apologize for his statement and exit Sokoto as “diversionary” and “nationally unhealthy.” Good enough, that the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media and Publicity), Garba Shehu, also stated that MSF’s comment “is wrong because it is not in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
So, how does this pan out? In all honesty, it is painful that 61 years after political independence, Nigeria is still grappling with issues of religious intolerance, a fragile unity all in the midst of self-decimating insecurity and a deepening pit of an economic recession. Are these not the same pertinent issues of our clear and present dangers that Kukah has mustered the courage to point out to the powers that be? He must have remembered the call by St. Catherine of Siena urging us to: “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”
How can we run a country, under a democracy when the citizens are hard placed to speak the truth to power? Are our political leaders not up there on the pedestal of power to serve the people’s interests? Should the people not be weaned on the milk of patriotism; to place the national interest far above personal and pecuniary interests, right from our growing up days? After all, did Theodore Roosevelt (statesman, conservationist, naturalist, historian, and writer, who served as the 26th president of the United States) not explicitly explain what patriotism stands for?
According to him, “Patriotism means to stand by the country.” It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.” Well stated!
So, before we crucify Kukah, let us ask ourselves if he has spoken the truth, according to the prevailing socio-economic and political circumstances. Has he not ventilated his views in the national interest? If so, in my own candid opinion now is an auspicious time for the federal government to host another national conference.
Like it or not, this country belongs to all Nigerians and not just a section of it, irrespective of the population or land mass. The earlier this sinks in us the better for us all. That reminds one of an admonition by William Faulkner. According to him, “never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”
Baje writes from Lagos